Falls Prevention Awareness Week is September 21st through the 25th for 2020. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) states that 1 in 4 Americans age 65+ will fall every year. In fact, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Falling is not an inevitable part of aging, however, and there are many things you can do to help prevent this common occurrence from happening to you. This blog will look at identifying your risk factors, lifestyle changes/tweaks that can be done, and a few assistive devices to better help keep you stable and on your feet.
Risk Factors/Twelve Questions
The NCOA provides a checklist that was developed by the Greater Los Angeles VA Geriatric Research Education Clinical Center and affiliates. It is a validated fall risk self-assessment tool. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition
- Have you fallen in the past year? (People who have fallen once are likely to fall again.)
- Do you use or have been advised to use a cane or walker to get around safely? (People who have been advised to use a cane or walker may already be more likely to fall.)
- Are you sometimes unsteady when walking? (Unsteadiness or needing support while walking are signs of poor balance.)
- Do you steady yourself by holding onto furniture at home? (This is also a sign of poor balance.)
- Are you worried about falling? (People who are worried about falling are more likely to fall.)
- Do you need to push with your hands to stand up from a chair? (This is a sign of weak leg muscles, a major reason for falling.)
- Do you have trouble stepping up onto a curb? (This is also a sign of weak leg muscles.)
- Do you often have to rush to the bathroom? (Rushing to the bathroom, especially at night, increases your chance of falling.)
- Have you lost any feeling in your feet? (Numbness in your feet can cause stumbles and lead to falls.)
- Do you take medicine that sometimes makes you feel light-headed or more tired than usual? (Side effects from medicines can sometimes increase your chance of falling.)
- Do you take medicine to help you sleep or improve your mood? (These medicines can sometimes increase your chance of falling.)
- Do you often feel sad or depressed? (Symptoms of depression, such as not feeling well or feeling slowed down, are linked to falls.)
The Mayo Clinic and National Institute on Aging offer advice on helping to prevent falls. The following are lifestyle and/or household changes that can easily be made to decrease your chance of falling:
- Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. With your doctor’s OK, consider activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi. Such activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. There are numerous free exercise videos readily available online including the National Institute of Aging on YouTube, the Silver Sneakers Facebook page and HASfit on YouTube (which caters to all physical abilities).
- Have your eyes and hearing tested. Even small changes in sight and hearing may cause you to fall. When you get new eyeglasses or contact lenses, take time to get used to them. Always wear your glasses or contacts when you need them. If you have a hearing aid, be sure it fits well and wear it.
- Find out about the side effects of any medicine you take. If a drug makes you sleepy or dizzy, tell your doctor or pharmacist.
- Get enough sleep. If you are sleepy, you are more likely to fall.
- Wear sensible shoes. Consider changing your footwear as part of your fall-prevention plan. High heels, floppy slippers, and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble, and fall. So can walking in your stocking feet. Instead, wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles. Sensible shoes may also reduce joint pain. (Great Senior Living provides a comprehensive article on finding the best shoes along with recommendations for brands and styles).
- Remove hazards/clutter. Take a look around your home. Your living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, hallways, and stairways may be filled with hazards. To make your home safer: remove boxes, newspapers, electrical cords and phone cords from walkway, move coffee tables, magazine racks, and plant stands from high-traffic areas, secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, tacks or a slip-resistant backing — or remove loose rugs from your home, repair loose, wooden floorboards and carpeting right away, store clothing, dishes, food and other necessities within easy reach, immediately clean spilled liquids, grease or food, and use nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower. Use a bath seat, which allows you to sit while showering.
- Light up your living space. Keep your home brightly lit to avoid tripping on objects that are hard to see. The following are just a few suggestions on how to accomplish this: Place night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways. Place a lamp within reach of your bed for middle-of-the-night needs. Make clear paths to light switches that aren’t near room entrances. Consider trading traditional switches for glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches. Turn on the lights before going up or down stairs. Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages.
If you feel unsteady or feel more confident holding onto something that supports part of your body weight, then it might be time to investigate an assistive device. Appropriate use of canes and walkers can prevent falls. If your doctor tells you to use a cane or walker, make sure it is the right size for you and the wheels roll smoothly. This is important when you are walking in areas you do not know well or where the walkways are uneven. A physical or occupational therapist can help you decide which devices might be helpful and teach you how to use them safely. ILA offers many different assistive devices that can help you or a loved one prevent falls. A few of these include:
HurryCane – Freedom Edition: The extremely popular HurryCane® has been redesigned to give you more support and confidence with every step you take. It is now 40% stronger and 20% lighter. This cane, with its comfort-fit handle, folds down for easy storage and folds out instantly when ready to use. The SteadiGrip™ base allows you further confidence and the smooth pivoting base enables even greater ease of movement and stability. The cane height is also easily adjusted from shorter to taller and back as needed. Now available in 4 different colors, pathfinder purple, roadrunner red, trailblazer blue, or original black. Please specify. (For more cane options see ILA-Canes)
Deluxe Folding Walker, Two Button with Wheels: Walk with confidence with this sturdy, deluxe folding walker that features 5″ wheels on the front supports and 1″ diameter anodized, extruded aluminum construction throughout. This ensures maximum strength while remaining lightweight. Fold the walker by pushing just two buttons. Buttons can be pushed with fingers, palms, or sides of hand. Regain your independence with this terrific walker. (For more walker options see ILA-Walkers)
The Bed Step: Constructed of durable, splinter-free plywood coated with lacquer. Designed to make getting in and out of bed easier. The two steps are 4″ and 8″ high, 12″ deep by 24″ wide. Steps are covered with foot-friendly carpet. The side panel can be placed on either side of the steps providing extra security. An additional optional side panel is available. This is ideal for those with mobility and/or balance problems. Weight capacity: 400 lbs. Some assembly required.
Ice Treads : Navigate the winter months with more confidence when wearing these ice treads which stretch easily over an existing pair of shoes. The lightweight and heavy-duty tread has five stainless steel spikes. The spikes make trudging through snow and navigating icy patches more secure during your travels. These treads fold compactly into a resealable vinyl bag so that you always have them at the ready. Women’s Treads fits sizes 5 to 10. Men’s Ice Treads fits sizes 6 to 11.